Biathletes on the IBU World Cup circuit hit up Hochfilzen, Austria for the second straight weekend after poor snow conditions in France forced the cancellation of a scheduled weekend there. While doubling up in Hochfilzen wasn’t too exciting, U.S. biathlete Lowell Bailey said that it wasn’t as bad as he’d expected, either.
“The second week of racing here in Hochfilzen turned out to be quite a bit different than the first even though we were racing identical race formats on identical courses,” he wrote on his blog.
While FasterSkier provided coverage of most of the races, there were bits and pieces we didn’t include in our race reports, as well as accounts from athletes and coaches who were out of contact due to travel following the races on Sunday. Here’s a roundup.
Canadian Results in the Pursuit
FasterSkier didn’t cover the women’s pursuit on Saturday, but two Canadian women finished in the top thirty. The first was Megan Imrie, who started 25th after a career-best finish in the sprint and then moved up to 24th. What was more surprising was that Zina Kocher, who had started 50th, managed to make her way up to 30th despite having four penalties. Kocher skied the 6th-fastest time in the whole race. Here’s what she wrote in an e-mail to FasterSkier on Sunday:
It was an excellent day for our women’s team because I can’t remember when the last time two of us made top 30! The conditions were definitely a bit tricky – there was some wind, and before the race it was dumping snow. Once we started the snow eased up though.
I approached the race knowing that I had great opportunity to move up by staying in control. I was determined to move up as much as possible right from the get go as there was a good train of athletes right ahead of me. I knew that the techs have been doing a wicked job here in Hochfilzen, and that my skis were going to be fast in this new snow.
In the shooting, I had blocks of ice for hands in both prone stages and had to be very careful squeezing the trigger as I couldn’t feel anything. Fortunately, my hands warmed up by standing and I tried to be more aggressive and automatic. I would have been more satisfied with a few more hits, but it is what it is. After my last standing I gave it everything I possibly could to make up as many spots possible.
U.S. Places 14th in Mixed Relay
Sunday brought a mixed relay, which was something of a roller coaster ride for the U.S. (see race report).
Sara Studebaker skied the scramble leg, and with perfect shooting and solid times on the trails stayed in the top ten and within striking distance of the top five.
“Sara did an awesome job yesterday and had her best race in this season,” U.S. shooting coach Armin Auchentaller told FasterSkier. “This is good for her confidence and she will improve for sure in the next World Cups.”
Next up was Annelies Cook, who cleaned prone and left the range in second place. But while she was psyched about her own performance, she also knew why it was possible: Studebaker.
“I was super psyched that Sara had such a good one and she put me in a great spot,” Cook explained. She also told FasterSkier about her race strategy: “I had to make sure not to get too excited as is typical for me so I just tried to relax behind some of the faster girls.”
Cook had just moved up from the IBU Cup, biathlon’s second tier of coordinated international races, which made her performance all the more impressive.
“Annelies did a really good job, and it was also for good for her confidence,” Auchentaller said. “It was difficult for sure for her coming from the IBU Cup and to perform right away, but she did.”
After Cook had to relay on spare rounds to clean in standing and with the men, Tim Burke and Leif Nordgren, having more trouble on the range, the team dropped to 14th. But Auchentaller was still enthusiastic.
“The boys tried to close the little gap and tried to push all the way to the shooting range and went for it in the shooting. Overall the boys had an amazing start this season. The relay from yesterday gives us confindence for the future- we definitely can do a top-ten result very soon. We can see clearly the potential for that.”
Canadians Aim For Top-Six, Shoot, Score
With each member of their relay team notching top-thirty performances so far this season, and with powerhouse Norway sitting the event out, the Canadians stated a goal to finish in the top six.
“Feeling great for the mixed relay today,” Kocher wrote in an e-mail the morning of the race. “We have a strong team and we really have the potential to finish in the top. All four us need to focus on the process, and stay in control.”
Imrie, Kocher, Brendan Green, and JP Le Guellec did just that, tagging off as high as fourth at one point before slipping back to sixth. Here’s what Kocher wrote to FasterSkier after the race:
“We were ecstatic in the warmup/finish area (Megan, Rosanna [Crawford], Marco [Marc-Andre Bedard], myself and massage therapist Scott) when Brendan shot clean again. He hasnt missed a shot in sprints and relays this trimester. And we called him our superhero. I’m thrilled that we showed today that we have the ability as a team to be in the top 6, not just as individuals. And that is an inspirating, motivating confidence booster for the entire team. Not just the athletes but support staff and pyramid around us that help us get there.”
As for her own race, Kocher had some adventures with mechanics:
Standing shooting was going super until those last two shots. I had some trouble loading one of my spares- it got stuck in my chamber and I wasted some time fixing this and loading another round. And when I missed one of my extras I felt a bit stressed, and my legs were shaking as the lactate pooled! Thoughts of ‘focus you better hit this because you are not doing a penalty loop today’ flashed through my brain!
Kocher did drop the last target and the team avoided the penalty loop completely.
Here’s how Imrie described the result:
The relay ended in a great result for us. Everyone put everything they had into this race today. Zina’s ski time was one of the best of the day, Brendan was an absolute professional out there, and JP was, as usual, a rock solid anchor under pressure.
I got involved in a tangle leaving the mass start, but I didn’t panic about it. The accordion effect on the first climb was so huge that I was back in the pack immediately, stress free. Shooting was just alright- I wanted to be more aggressive the whole way through the race, and I did that.
The prize ceremony was an early Christmas present for the team.
Finally, anchor skier JP Le Guellec had this to say:
The whole week end was a high for Canadian biathlon I think. From the races on the World Cup, finishing with a strong mixed relay (6th), but also on the IBU Cup – 3rd and 4th places, and 4th on their mixed relay also. As a whole, I think the team will be able to enjoy the vacation and be able to focus on quality training. For me, it’s definitly a good way to head back home. Leaving on a “team high” like this is pretty priceless.